Bonnie Fisk-Hayden, 1943—2011

09/08/2011

Bonnie Fisk-Hayden, a graphic designer and holistic nutritionist who championed the cause of affordable housing by helping to found the Community Land Trust of West Marin, died on August 26 at her home in Point Reyes Station. She was 68. Bonnie had been battling a rare form of Acute Autoimmune Hepatitis since November. 

A devoted mother, Bonnie left a profound and indelible mark on the lives of her three daughters, as she did on the communities in which she resided. “Mom was the bird on your shoulder always encouraging you,” said her daughter Rachel. “She was the person that everybody went to when they had a question about anything.” 

Bonnie Fisk was born on September 6, 1943 in Chicago to Stanley, a shoe salesman, and Bettie, a homemaker. The family moved to Omaha, Nebraska, where Bonnie spent the rest of her childhood before attending Wells College in upstate New York and later the University of California, Berkeley, where she majored in Fine Arts. 

While a student at Berkeley, Bonnie married her roommate’s brother’s best friend’s cousin, Larry Hayden. At the time, Larry worked for his father’s vending machine business, but he would eventually go on to become a general contractor and the president of a Bay Area remodeling and design business.

The couple moved to Montclair, in the Oakland hills, where Bonnie gave birth to their first daughter, Merrill, in 1965. Leah came three years later, and Rachael one year after that. The family lived in a charming house that quickly became the social nexus of the neighborhood. 

“Some of my best memories in that house were all the special events—Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Passover—and helping my mom prepare the meals,” Rachael said. “She was such an amazing cook.” 

Bonnie’s culinary prowess was well known in the neighborhood, as was her tendency to eschew prepared foods for wholesome, often whole-wheat alternatives. Once, when a young cousin who was visiting opened the refrigerator and saw brown eggs she exclaimed, “Man, Aunt Bonnie, you even have whole wheat eggs!” 

She was a woman of detail, who planned for most every scenario. When babysitters were hired to care for the girls, Bonnie would leave lengthy notes full of motherly edicts, as in, “When Leah wakes up from her nap she may have one graham cracker,” and “Merrill is not to be punished for toileting accidents.” Bonnie refused to purchase Barbie dolls because she thought they promoted a negative body image.

Everything was made from scratch, from the girls’ lunches to their wardrobes and Halloween costumes. One year she turned Merrill into an exact replica of a box of Rice Crispies. “It was perfect,” Leah said. “I mean, snap, crackle, pop—the whole nine yards.”

Bonnie’s Jewish faith influenced her life in Oakland and, later, as a community member in West Marin. While the girls were young she served on the board and was an officer in a women’s group at her local synagogue. The family observed Shabbat and all major holidays, including Passover, when they kept kosher. 

Nevertheless, Bonnie remained open and welcoming of individuals with different beliefs. Every year on Christmas morning she would bake a special breakfast cake and deliver it to her next-door neighbors, who were Catholic. 

She and Larry eventually divorced, though they remained close and continued to parent together, often calling family meetings if there was an issue concerning one or all of the girls. Bonnie took a job as a graphic designer at the headquarters of the clothing chain Mervyn’s, in Hayward. She did not enjoy working in a big windowless building, but she compensated for the tedium with long outdoor walks during her lunch breaks. 

When the girls were grown Bonnie quit her job, sold her house and moved to Point Reyes Station, where she knew no one but loved the natural beauty of the place. “It was almost like coming home,” Merrill said. “She was finally living for herself and for what she believed in rather than as a mother or a wife or a worker.”

After briefly trying her hand in the hospitality industry, Bonnie opened a private graphic design firm but eventually branched off into the field of holistic nutrition, earning a Masters’ degree in 2006 and starting her own practice. She remained an active graphic designer, however, and lent her expertise to local nonprofits such as the Dance Palace and CLAM, whose logo she coined. 

“She was a fabulous graphic designer who could organize text and put it together in a way that just flowed so beautifully,” said the Dance Palace’s former executive director and longtime friend, Carol Friedman.

Bonnie fashioned CLAM’s first Western Weekend float in 2001—a VW van with a table inside and a banner that read: “Affordable housing doesn’t mean living in a VW van.” 

But her presence in the organization went beyond simple creativity. “She was a very social aware person who could see the need very early on for affordable housing,” said Susan Brayton, who served alongside Bonnie on CLAM’s founding board. “She really had a great concern for the future of this area.”

Noticing a congregational void for the region’s scattered Jewish population, Bonnie worked closely with Carol Friedman and others to form the Lost Tribe of West Marin, which met regularly for holidays and Yiddish classes. Eventually another Jewish group emerged in San Geronimo Valley, and the Lost Tribe dissolved. 

Bonnie fell in love with a local resident named Howard Schoof, whom she’d met at a dinner party. “[The relationship] had a slow fuse, but once it finally took off it couldn’t stop,” Howard said.  The two dated for some years, and eventually married.

In November of last year, Bonnie began feeling fatigued and losing weight. Her condition rapidly deteriorated from there. “She was very much aware of what was happening and really surrounded herself with family and friends, spending time reconnecting with people who had been part of her life,” Merrill said. “It was not only important for her journey but for the people who connected with her to say the things she did.” 

 

Bonnie is survived by her husband, Howard Schoof; her daughter and son-in-law, Merrill Hayden and Michael Bading; daughters, Leah Hayden and Rachael Banta; brother and sister-in-law, Stephen and Shela Fisk; and a niece and nephew.